“I look at him, and he looks more hungry,” McNair says, “like he wants to work harder, like there’s more desire.”
Little Brandon Banks never lacked drive. Even going back to Pop Warner days, his teammates dwarfed him. McNair worried privately that his son was too small and would get hurt.
“I never said it out loud, because you never tell somebody what they can’t do,” McNair says. “But yeah, I worried that to myself all the time. But being undersized, being doubted has always driven him. If anything ever happened, if he twisted an ankle or anything, he always used it as motivation.”
The 5-foot-6, 151-pound Banks’ latest motivational tools are much more daunting than a twisted ankle, as the scars on his left knee (from surgery to repair a torn ligament last November) and upper left abdomen (from a stabbing in February) would attest.
Banks views both as just another set of bumps in the road.
“Just more obstacles,” he said earlier this week. “That’s it.”
Banks became a fan favorite after displaying blazing speed and returning a punt 77 yards for a touchdown during the last preseason. In Week 8, he returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, but tore a ligament in his knee during the same game. Banks underwent surgery two days later, but returned to play only 13 days later.
At year’s end, Banks confessed that his knee was still far from healthy, but that he had elected to play out of fear of losing his job.
Forty days after the season ended, Banks was involved in an incident that could have cost him more than his career. The receiver and his lifelong friend, Christopher Nixon, were both stabbed on Feb.12 outside a downtown D.C. night club after an argument with a Lanham, Md. man.
Banks and sources who spoke on condition of anonymity say that Banks and Jason Shorter, the alleged attacker, had argued outside the The Park at Fourteenth before Banks turned to walk away. Nixon, seeing Shorter allegedly pull a folding knife from his pocket and open it, threw a punch. According to a police report, video from a surveillance camera outside the nightclub verified the account.
After Nixon punched Shorter, Banks and the club’s bouncer jumped in to break up the fight, but Shorter “reached over [the bouncer] and initially attacked [Nixon] with the knife,” according to the police report. Banks and Nixon were both stabbed repeatedly.
The bouncer subdued Shorter, police were called and Banks was taken to Howard University Hospital, where he had a tube inserted in his lung, which had collapsed. He remained at Howard for five days before he was transported to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, where he spent another two days under the care of team doctors.
Shorter was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon. He is scheduled to appear in court in July.
Banks this week confirmed the circumstances of the incident, but refused to discuss it further. “It was scary at the time, but after it was over, it was over,” he said.
Banks has attended all five days of the Redskins’ players-only group workouts in April and May. He said he suffers no ill effects from the stabbing, but his knee is still recovering.
“The lung’s 100 percent. Breathing’s fine,” Banks said. “It’s a matter of getting my knee stronger. It’s about 90 percent, so I’m working on getting back into full condition, and just get stronger and become a better NFL player.”
Banks’ progress is evident. During the workouts in April, he went through agility drills and fielded kicks, but didn’t do any full-speed running. This week, he appeared to have few limitations, even beating cornerback DeAngelo Hall up the right sideline to catch a touchdown pass from Rex Grossman in 7-on-7 drills.
“It’s good to see him out here,” said fellow receiver Anthony Armstrong. “It shows he’s trying to work, trying to focus. He kinda has a bad connotation of ‘Oh, he likes to party,’ and all this other stuff, but no. The guy wants to work. . . He’s doing what he can until they fully clear him, then he’ll be cutting all over the field like he usually does.”
Banks said that he never worried that his football career would be taken from him, not even while lying in the hospital with a collapsed lung. But he very well could be in a fight to hold onto his position if and when training camp begins.
The Redskins last month drafted two receivers – Nebraska’s Niles Paul and SMU’s Aldrick Robinson – who are both bigger, stronger and more versatile than Banks. Banks played almost exclusively on special teams last season and recorded only two catches for 10 yards last year.
Banks said the rookie additions “didn’t put any pressure on me. As soon as I got here, they were looking for a guy better than me. I love competition and hopefully I can be the best and they put me out on the field. . . I’ve still got something to prove.”